Scientists create computer program to make jokes

HEARD the one about the computer that turned into a ­comedian? Actually, it’s no joke. Scientists have created a computer ­program which comes up with gags to make us laugh.

Edinburgh Fringe comedian Martin Mor finds the computer jokes quite funny. Picture: Contributed

“Side-splitting” one-liners include: “I like my men like I like my monoxide – odourless”, and “I like my women like I like my gas – natural”.

Computer experts at the University of Edinburgh came up with the idea of creating computer comedy and have now developed software to turn our PCs into laugh-a-minute machines.

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The computer-generated joke software works by selecting funny combinations of words then fitting them into a template created from one-liners gathered from social networking site Twitter.

The gags all follow the formula of the popular joke, “I like my men like I like my tea – hot and British”.

Volunteers testing the quality of the computer-generated ­witticisms found they made them laugh, although not as much as man-made ­humour.

In their joke-generating software, researchers tried to create one-liners with an element of surprise, which they found was a key component of successful comedy. The jokes were created by searching for unlikely pairings of words and an unusual connection between them.

The scientists who built the system said their work has a useful purpose in helping computers understand and process language.

The computer experts, who are presenting the study at the Association for Computational Linguistics annual meeting in Sofia, Bulgaria, next week, said for automated jokes to improve, programmes would need to have cultural awareness.

David Matthews, of Edinburgh University’s School of ­Informatics, who took part in the project, said: “Computers have an advantage over people in that they can process masses of information, so we fed computers a wealth of material from which they extracted creative and unusual word combinations to fit our joke template.

“The holy grail for machine-generated comedy would be to include cultural references, but these are very hard to capture.”

Comedian Martin Mor, who is appearing at The Stand Comedy Club in his Edinburgh Festival Fringe show, said he thought the computer jokes were quite funny.

“Some comedians write jokes in the same way,” he said. “They will look up a word and then see what other words fit with it.”

However, Mor, said the gags lacked a human contact 

“I think it is an interesting concept. There are two types of comedians: one, like Bob Hope, who would crack fantastic jokes but by the end of the evening you still would not know anything about him.

“Then there are comedians who will be equally funny, but you will walk away feeling like you know a bit more about that person because their comedy has come from a much more honest and human place.”

Mor concluded: “Jokes aren’t just about making people laugh, they are about making people connect with other humans – and computer jokes don’t do that.”

Comedian Seymour Mace, who is also appearing at The Stand as part of this year’s Fringe, said he thought the idea was “rubbish and dangerous”.

He added: “Why are boffins creating computers which are one day going to be our masters? It’s already started. Take ­kettles, for example – they are just ­robots that tell you when your water has boiled.

“Anyone can see when the water has boiled.”